NaNoWriMo writers and their inner editors…

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(Note: This is the third of a five-part series about NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program.  Click the following links to read Part 1Part 2Part 4, and Part 5 of the series.)

If you ask one of the young participants in our elementary school NaNoWriMo group what an “inner editor” is, they will tell you, “It’s the voice inside your head that says your writing stinks. It shouts, ‘You can’t write a book!’, and it shakes its finger at you, telling you your commas are all messed up and your spelling is wrong.”

To write a complete first draft of a novel in a month, an author needs to push forward, fast and hard. There’s no time to fret over the details or mechanics of storytelling. So, on the first meeting with our group of twenty writers, my teaching partner and I had the kids draw a picture of their inner editors.

Then, before they began writing their books on November 1st, we shoved their bossy inner editors into a book-shaped box . . .

. . . and we closed it up and put it high on a shelf . . .

. . . where it will stay locked up until December 1st.

But how do you write without stopping to edit yourself?

I came across one solution when I attended a conference put on by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Donna Jo Napoli, the brilliant and award-winning author of many books including The King of Mulberry Street and Alligator Bayou, gave a workshop on writing fast drafts. She said that when you are zooming along with your story and suddenly you realize that for a particular scene you need a dog, but in the earlier chapters there was no dog, you just go ahead and write the dog into the scene and leave a note reminding yourself to introduce a dog in the earlier part of the book. Because, as Ms. Napoli said, this fast draft is your first draft. It’s okay if it’s sloppy and cruddy. In fact, it is supposed to be cruddy. That’s why we have revisions.

So, there you go, writers. You have Donna Jo Napoli’s permission to get messy with your writing!

Another trick I’ve learned is that when you can’t think of the perfect word you want to use to describe something, skip it, keep rolling forward, and think about it while you’re riding in the car, or eating your dinner, or brushing your teeth. Then, when the word you want pops into your head, write it down in that notebook you always keep in your pocket (you do have a little notebook and a pen in your pocket, don’t you?) and then insert it into your manuscript the next time you sit down to write.

The other day, when I was writing with our youngest authors who are five and six years old, we realized we had used a descriptive word twice in the same sentence. I believe the word was “sticky.” The kids didn’t want to use it twice, but they couldn’t think of another adjective. So, we put a big circle around the word and decided to think about it and come back to it later.

For the older kids who are writing their stories independently on the computer, when they get stuck they can write in a code word, like, maybe the name of their dog. Then, when they think of the word they want, they can do a search for “Rover,” or whatever their dog’s name is, and add the new idea.

I know there are a lot of NaNoWriMo participants out there. Tell us your secrets. How do you keep your inner editor from squeezing out of the locked box and slowing down your writing?

Jennifer Duddy Gill has the privilege of working with truly amazing kids in an elementary school in Denver.

Jennifer Duddy Gill
  1. My usual reaction to my inner editor is to set off on a nice long written rant against my inner editor and any other negatives in my life, until retreat, shame-faced, into some place that is out of my way. For some reason, a writing tantrum like that has the handy side effect of firing up my creative juices so that I end up coming up with more and more ideas for the story as I am flaring. On the other hand, I would not recommend this as a particularly healthy approach for kids to engage in, I think . . .

    P.S. The idea for using code words as placeholders is brilliant! Thank you for sharing it; it will help immensely!

  2. Love this article! You sound like a fun teacher:-)

    This is my first year doing NaNoWriMo, and I found a lot of helpful tips in these comments, especially the one about keeping a separate Word document open for later edits. Thanks everyone!